Next week, 30 wounded warriors and their families will travel from all over the country to visit Bethany Beach, thanks to Operation SEAs the Day.
The nonprofit organization that was created to “organize and facilitate a beach week event for our wounded soldiers and their families as a means of showing our appreciation for their service and sacrifice.”
Warrior Beach Week will be held Sept. 8-13 and gives the wounded warriors and their families a time to relax as a family, without a focus on any of their injuries.
Each family will stay in a home in Bethany Beach that is donated for the week and be provided with a volunteer host, who will help, if desired by the family, with anything from giving directions to making suggestions as to what to enjoy while they’re in the area.
Along with the 30 wounded warrior families, two alumni families from Warrior Beach Week last year will be returning to offer assistance to the families.
Throughout the week, the “Very Important Families” (VIFs) will get to enjoy a welcoming reception at Ocean View VFW Post #7234, as well as a bonfire and cookout, and a family night.
Families will get to choose what activities they participate in, and are given the opportunity to golf, fish, have a spa day or just relax — all free of charge. With more than 100 sponsors, the events’ supporters even donate items to the VIFs, from gift cards to a free meal in their restaurants.
A special event this year will be dinner and a concert at the Freeman Stage at Bayside on Sept. 11, with the patriotic concert performed by Aaron Tippin. Just as the community rallied last year, this year, organizers hope that visitors and locals will line the streets for a “Heroes’ Welcome.”
Rosely Robinson of A Hero’s Welcome’s Delaware Chapter became involved in Operation SEAs the Day in 2013, after hearing what the organization was trying to accomplish.
“I’m with A Hero’s Welcome, out of New Castle County,” she explained. “We go to the airports and send off the military. We also welcome them home… We are very involved with the soldiers here in Delaware.
“So when I became involved in Operation SEAs the Day the second year, I asked if they would allow me to do an escort. That’s when we took them from Bethany in school buses down to the Freeman Stage.”
When the VIFs traveled to their first Freeman Stage concert, the route from the Sea Colony Marketplace to the entrance of the stage was lined with handmade patriotic posters and people, decked out in red, white and blue, who were waving flags and cheering.
“We do something similar upstate for returning soldiers,” said Robinson of the welcome. “It turned out better than I thought it was going to be.”
Last year, Robinson put the Heroes’ Welcome together in just five days. This time, she’s had a year to plan it.
“This year is going to be even bigger, because I’ve got a lot more people involved,” she said, noting that antique cars, 33 Jeeps and eight different motorcycle clubs will be coming to lead the buses of VIFs to the Freeman Stage.
“There are some people coming all the way from Pottstown. They’re riding their bikes just for the day, and then they’re heading back that night. There are people travelling just to do this. Almost all of those guys are veterans themselves. It should be a lot of fun.”
Law enforcement officers from the Delaware State Police and Bethany Beach, Ocean View, South Bethany, Fenwick Island and Selbyville police departments will also join the motorcade, as will members of the Bethany Beach, Millville, Frankford and Roxana volunteer fire companies.
“The law enforcement in all of these towns couldn’t be any better. They really get into it. We can’t thank them enough.”
Tippin himself will be leading the motorcade to the Freeman Stage, which Robinson said is very exciting.
“I just found out that one of the motorcycle clubs will be giving Aaron Tippin an honorary vest. That should be really, really neat,” she added.
As for the welcome signs, Robinson said they have been getting made by visitors (some from as far away as Canada and Israel) and community members since June.
“We’ve made 200 of them,” she said. “When we told them what it was all about… they were just so happy to do it.”
Along with their sign station at the Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market, Operation SEAs the Day also had posters made by children at the South Coastal Library and Lord Baltimore Elementary School.
“They did an awesome job,” she said of the children. “Lord Baltimore is the No. 1 school in the state of Delaware that writes letters constantly to our military. They really do a nice job.”
Following a farewell breakfast, the VIFs will be able to take home one of the 200 signs with their special messages of thanks.
“At the end of the week, each one of the veteran families can pick a sign and take it home, which is really neat. Some of them even framed them last year,” said Robinson, adding of the sign-makers, “They just didn’t write something fast. They really thought about what we were doing and what they wanted to say to these veterans. It was great.
“There were little ones. There were families who did a whole poster together. There were teenagers who did their own. Some people took them home and then brought them back.”
Robinson said the Heroes’ Welcome was an emotional experience for the VIFs and those participating, noting that many tears were shed.
“Some of them said it was bigger than a presidential parade. They were just so happy.”
Robinson herself, who was born and raised in Brazil but moved to the United States when she was 13, said it is important to her to honor her country’s military, be it through Operation SEAs the Day, Wreaths Across America or Stockings for Soldiers.
“I just love what I do. I wasn’t born in this country. I became a citizen when I was 20 years old. I just love do what I do — honoring our military.”
Robinson said being involved in something like Operation SEAs the Day allows her to pay it forward for those who have sacrificed so much for other people’s daily freedoms.
“The new VIFs coming this year — I hope they get the same feeling, the welcome they deserve for their sacrifice. I think the week is something that they’ll remember forever.”
For more information about Operation SEAstheDay, visit www.OperationSEAstheDay.org.